Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home
Texas Ranch House -- Teddy Blue Abbott


Teddy Blue Abbott E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott was born in Cranwich, England in 1860, and was brought to the West by his parents as a boy. The Abbotts settled in Lincoln, Nebraska -- a time when the region was overrun with Texas cattle and cowboys heading north on trail drives. Teddy Blue's father decided to try his luck in the booming business and bought cattle from Texas. Teddy Blue, only 10 years old, was allowed to help herd them to Nebraska in hopes that the open air would improve his frail health. The experience, Abbott said later, "made a cowboy out of me. Nothing could have changed me after that." Teddy Blue worked on the range throughout the 1870s and 1880s. His memoirs of cowboy life -- from the dangerous trail drives to the off-season shenanigans in town -- was published in 1939. Below are excerpts from his memoirs, WE POINTED THEM NORTH: RECOLLECTIONS OF A COWPUNCHER.

Cowpunchers and Cowboys
"There were worlds of cattle in Texas after the Civil War. They had multiplied and run wild while the men was away fighting for the Confederacy, especially down in the southern part, between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. By the time the war was over they was down to four dollars a head -- when you could find a buyer. Here was all these cheap, long-horned steers overrunning Texas; here was the rest of the country crying for beef -- and no railroads to get them out. So they trailed them out, across hundreds of miles of wild country thick with Indians. In 1866 the first Teas herds crossed the Red River. In 1867 the town of Abilene was founded at the end of the Kansas Pacific Railroad and that was when the trail really started. From that time on the big drives were made every year, and the cowboy was born...

Those first tail outfits in the seventies were sure tough. It was a new business and had to develop. Work oxen were used instead of horses to pull the wagon, and if one played out, they could rope a steer and yoke him up. They had very little grub and they usually ran out of that and lived off of straight beef. They had only three or four horses to the man, mostly with sore backs, because the old-time saddle ate both ways, the horse's back and the cowboy's pistol pocket. They had no tents, no tarps and damn few slickers. They never kicked, because those boys was raised under just the same conditions as there was on the trail -- corn meal and bacon for grub, dirt floors in the houses and no luxuries. In the early days in Texas, in the sixties, then they gathered their cattle, they used to pack what they needed on a horse and go out for weeks on a cow hunt they called it then. That was before the name roundup was invented, and before they had anything so civilized as mess wagons. And I say, that is the way those first trail hands were raised. Take her as she comes and like it. They used to brag that they could go anyplace a cow could and a stand anything a horse could. It was their life.

Most all of them were Southerners, and they were a wild, reckless bunch. For dress they wore wide-brimmed beaver hats, black or brown with a low crown, fancy shirts, high-heeled boots and sometimes a vest. Their clothes and saddles were all homemade. Most of them had an army coat with cape, which was a slicker and blanket, too. Lay on your saddle blanket and cover up with a coat was about the only bed used on the Texas trail at first. A few had a big buffalo robe to rollup in, but if they ever got good and wet you never had time to dry them, so they were not popular, All had a pair of bullhide chaps, or leggings they called them then. They were good in the brush and wet weather, but in fine weather were left in the wagon."

Up in the Trail in '79
"Even in the daytime those deep coulees [dry creeks] could open up all at once in front of you, before you had a chance to see where you were going, and at night it was something awful if you'd stop and think about it, which none of them ever did. If a storm came along and the cattle started running -- you'd hear that low, rumbling noise along the ground and the men on herd wouldn't need to come in and tell you, you'd know -- then you'd jump for your horse and get out there in the lead, trying to head them and get them into a mill before they scattered to hell-and-gone [The cowboys would attempt to make the cattle run in an ever-tightening circle until they could no longer move.] It was riding at a dead run in the dark, with cut banks and prairie dog holes all around you in a shallow grave....

That night it come up an awful storm. It took all four of us to hold the cattle and we didn't hold them, and when morning come there was one man missing. We went back to look for him, and we found him among the prairie dog holes, beside his horse. The horse's ribs was scraped bare of hide, and all the rest of the horse and man was mashed into the ground as flat as a pancake. The only thing you could recognize was the handle of his six-shooter. We tried to think the lightning hit him, and that was what we wrote his folds down in Henrietta, Texas, but we couldn't really believe it ourselves. I'm afraid it wasn't the lightning. I'm afraid his horse stepped into one of them holes and they both went down before the stampede.

... the awful part of it was that we had milled them cattle over him all night, not knowing he was there. That was what we couldn't get out of our minds. And after that, orders were given to sing when you were running with a stampede so the others would know where you were as long as they heard you singing, and if they didn't hear you they would figure something happened. After awhile, this grew to be a custom on the range, but you know, this was still a new business in the seventies and they was learning all the time."

Thorns, Thunder, Lightning, and Hail
Lots of cowpunchers were killed by lightning, which is known fact. I was knocked off my horse by it twice. The first time I saw a ball of fire coming my way and felt something strike me on the head. When I came to, I was lying under old Pete and the rain was pouring down on my face. The second time, I was trying to get under a railroad bridge when it hit me, and I came to in the ditch. The cattle were always restless when there was a storm at night, even if it was a long way off, and that was when any little thing would start a run. Lots of times I have ridden around the herd with lightning playing and thunder muttering in the distance; when the air was so full of electricity that I would see it flashing on the horns of the cattle, and there would be balls of it on the horse's ears and even on my mustache; little balls about the size of a pea. I suppose it was static electricity, the same as when you shake a blanket on a winter night a dark night.

But when you add it all up, I believe the worst hardship we had on the trail was the loss of sleep. There was never enough sleep. Our day wouldn't end until about nine o'clock, when we grazed the herd onto the bed ground. And after that, every man in the outfit except the boss and horse wrangler and cook would have to stand two hours night guard. If my guard watch was from 12 to two, I would stake my night horse, unroll my bed, pull off my boots and crawl in at nine, get about three hours sleep, and then ride for two hours. Then I would come off guard and get to sleep another hour and a half, till the cook yelled 'Roll out' at half past three. So I would get maybe five hours of sleep when the weather was nice, and everything smooth and pretty with cowboys singing under the stars. If it wasn't so nice, you'd be lucky to sleep an hour. But the wagon rolled on in the morning.

That night guard got to be part of our lives. They never had to call me. I would hear the fellow coming off herd -- because laying with your ear to the ground you could hear that horse trotting a mile off -- and I would jump up and put my hat and boots on and go out to meet him. We were all just the same.... Sometimes we would rub tobacco juice in our eyes just to keep awake. It was rubbing them with fire. I have done that a few times, and I have often sat in my saddle sound asleep for just a few minutes. "

From WE POINTED THEM NORTH: RECOLLECTIONS OF A COWPUNCHER by E. C. Abbott and Helena H. Smith. By permission of the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. All rights reserved

Photo: Montana Historical Society, Helena


close window